Retail is the process of selling goods or services to a consumer. Retail sales can be made directly to customers or via retail outlets. Recently, retail innovation has accelerated to a level never witnessed before. Due to the epidemic, retailers have developed a greater capacity for adaptability, creativity, and innovation.
To understand the future of Retail, in this episode of “The Future Of” Jeff is joined by Gautham Vadakkepatt, an Associate Professor, a Dean’s Scholar, and the Director of the Center for Retail Transformation at George Mason University, with additional insights from Sucharita Kodali, Vice President and Principal Analyst at Forrester Research.
Gautham Vadakkepatt: Fundamentally, that’s where I see things going, is that whenever you want it, wherever you want it, you are able to get the product. That means a lot of different technologies have to come together to realize that future.
Jeff Dance: Welcome to The Future Of, a podcast by Fresh Consulting, where we discuss and learn about the future of different industries, markets, and technology verticals. Together, we’ll chat with leaders and experts in the field and discuss how we can shape the future human experience. I’m your host, Jeff Dance.
In this episode of The Future Of, we’re joined by Gautham Vadakkepatt to explore the future of the retail experience. Welcome, Gautham. It’s a pleasure to have you with me on this episode focused on the future of retail. I’m excited to have a deep thinker, a professor, a futurist, someone with a lot of experience in this space. Just for those who don’t know you, can you give us some more insight into your experience?
Gautham: Yes. Well, Jeff, first of all, thank you for having me. Excited to be here and to share my viewpoint. As you said, my name is Dr. Gautham Vadakkepatt. I’m an associate professor, a dean scholar, and the director for the Center for Retail Transformation at George Mason University. I have, for the past 15 years or so, experienced retail. First got exposed to retail when working on my dissertation when my advisor was on the board of large public corporations, and I got exposed to the data that retail had. I got fascinated with retail. How do you take data that retailers have and generate insights that allow retail to be successful?
Since then, I worked with numerous retailers on multiple different facets of retail, go-to-market strategies, data insights. Also worked with GE and part of the team that worked on the digital transformation of GE. My recent iteration, I am the founding director for the Center for Retail Transformation where we help retailers, big and small, deal with the transformation that retail is going through.
Jeff: Awesome. Thanks for that background. To kick off, as you think about today, can you just walk us through some of the core components–? I want to ramp into the session together. Can you walk us through some of the core components of retail that go into retail business?
Gautham: Sure. Fundamentally, if you simplify it, retail is just the process of selling goods or services to a consumer, but if you look at the details of that, then you cover a lot of different components. Retail could be selling directly to consumers, retail could be selling to consumers through retail stores. All of them require different components, but there are a few things that are common. One is the merchandising aspect of things. You are ultimately selling a product or a service, so you need to deal with the merchandising. The second aspect is the labor. If you’re a retail store, you have store associates, store teams. If you’re DTC, you still have the customer service component that’s critical.
Then, if you think about it, there is the HR-related stuff, the corporate stuff that deals with communications. Then there’s the marketing component. How do you get people into the store or to your online commerce? How do you get them to stay a customer? Then post purchase. How do you keep them there? How do you keep them? There’s so many retail stores opening and closing, both online or in-person, like physical stores, how do you actually keep the customers engaged with the store? That could be one component.
Then the last part is, of course, the supply chain. How do you move the product from the manufacturer all the way to the consumer and when they want it, where they want it? It covers a lot of facets. Some are common to almost all industries, but others that are very unique to the retail sector.
Jeff: You mentioned DTC, and I know there’s a lot of acronyms in this space, like CPG or ESG, BOPIS. Obviously, B2C, B2B. Just can you walk through a few of those acronyms just in case we say some and some of the listeners aren’t aware?
Gautham: That’s a really good point. I talk about retail so often that you use acronyms. DTC is “direct to consumer.” Retail in its early conception was where you had retail stores, where you go to the store to buy your product, and now you have the idea that you could shop online, and that’s DTC. You talked about ESG. Most retailers today are focused on being a responsible retailer, that means taking care of the environment, taking care of the social aspects, and taking care of the governance.
CPG is “consumer packaged goods.” When you think about retailers, are they just selling products oftentimes then they’re buying it from these consumer packaged goods as an example, and then selling it to the consumer at higher markets? You talked about BOPIS. Something that is an outcome I think of the pandemic. Before pandemic, there was not this acronym, and BOPIS has a lot of different iterations. It’s simply “buy online, pickup in-store.” The idea is that, okay, look, I don’t want to go into the store, time is of essence. Let me place the order online and pick it up in-store or some version of that store.
It’s a common thing that almost all retailers are doing these days. It’s one of the positives, if there’s ever a positive outcome out of a pandemic, that’s probably something that we’ve seen from a retail context.
Jeff: You mentioned BOPIS as a result of the pandemic. Let’s talk about the last couple years. What has caused a lot of changes in the retail world? We have the pandemic, we have the supply chain issues, the labor shortage issues. We have inflation, we have the recent war and everything related there. What has changed in the last couple years for retailers? What has been some positive change, what’s been some negative things?
Gautham: The way I see it, these are all negative events in some ways, but they have a positive outcome in that they have actually accelerated the rate of innovation. Retailers have now come to realize that, man, we have to be far more agile, far more innovative, and far more adept at dealing with the ever-changing needs of the customers. They started deploying a lot more technologies, being a little bit more responsive to the needs of the customers.
We talked about BOPIS being one of those outcomes. Before the pandemic, it wasn’t, but almost every retailer has rolled it out and within a period of three or four weeks, they’ve been able to roll out something that is a game changer in many ways. I do think that that’s one of the positive consequences of all of these things.
You talked also about what are the negatives. When you talk about all of these factors, they put pressure, and different retailers respond to it differently. One of the downsides is that this has a massive impact on the smaller retailers, the ones who have not been able to adopt technology as much, who have not had the supply built out in a way that is responsive to this macroeconomic shock, who typically suffer in getting high-quality talent into their workforce and so forth. They are feeling much more of the pressure. At the same time, because they’re smaller, I also think the positive side of the negative is that they realize that, okay, now let’s be agile. Let’s take advantage of the size to react.
Jeff: What about for the buyers? Our shopping has changed. You mentioned BOPIS. What else has changed at a macro level for us?
Gautham: The desire for convenience has skyrocketed, is that now, “Hey, look, I want this now.” You’ve seen the quick commerce emerge, 15-minute delivery, or the promise 15-minute delivery. The buy online, pick up in-store is a play-on convenience. I also think that you’re seeing a lot of people willing to shift between––loyalty has suffered in some ways. People are willing to shift their purchase behaviors. When you talk about these macroeconomic shocks, especially inflation and so forth, people are getting more price sensitive.
One last point. What consumers are also looking for is retail that aligns more with who they are as an entity. You’re looking at more responsible retail, more ethical retail, and so forth. Probably when it comes to sorting, it’s still price, convenience, the value that you get, the merchandise that you have, but now these other factors are coming up more and more as decision-makers, being ethical, being responsible, how you treat your employees and so forth.
Jeff: With the awareness of the environment, of climate change, and everything else, people are saying, okay, how am I impacting that, and so how does that change my own purchasing behaviors? The awareness has triggered some alignment to like, okay, well, who am I buying from, and what are they doing?
Gautham: I think retailers are very much aware of the sustainability footprint, and they’re all making efforts to address those concerns. They view it as an opportunity, not concerns.
Jeff: Innovation often centers around problem solving, challenges, failures. What are some of the big problems that we still are facing today that we’re going to continue to see innovation around in the future?
Gautham: Again, I’m an academic as well, so if you broaden it up, the biggest problems are eliminating friction and creating memorable experiences. That’s what people are striving to do. Those are the challenges of retail. How do we eliminate friction? How do we actually create those memorable moments that make you want to keep coming back. To that extent, when you break it down, what are the real components of it, the day-to-day components, you think about going through a physical store, the amount of time you spend at checkout. That’s a real friction point that people want to have addressed.
In today’s world, stockouts are a major problem. You think about returns, that’s a huge problem. How do you deal with that? Then you think about discovery. That’s another aspect of those memorable experiences, not finding the product that you want. Also, the last, but perhaps not the least, I think is those customer experiences. What was your experience like? How did the store or that online website look? What was the experience like? How was your engagement with the store associate or a customer care representative? These are to me the challenges that retail still faces moving forward.
Jeff: New challenges and opportunities. I guess some of that isn’t new per se, how do we create a memorable experience? In the face of––was it 30 million new products introduced each year? It’s like you have more competition, you have more fragmentation, you have more channels, and so how do you create this memorable experience? I think it is becoming harder to say, “Oh, I’m standing out.” Now, that I can see everything online. Everyone has to be online in order to compete. It seems like selling online is like table stakes now to survive.
Maybe BOPIS, the buy online, pick up in-store, will be table stakes for a lot of retailers, was like, “Oh, I need to do that because there’s friction to actually go into a store and walk around and try to find the things I need. If I can quickly do that online, then I can just go pick it up, I’m going to save some time.”
Gautham: If I may add, it’s only about 14% of all commerce is still online. Most of it is in-store, but the important thing is that synergy is between online and offline. Essentially, you just want to shop whenever you want, wherever you want, you need to have access to it. Retailers are trying to figure that out. How do you build those synergies across these different channels that you talk about, Jeff?
Jeff: Is the 14% number related to worldwide commerce?
Gautham: No, actually that’s the US.
Jeff: Okay. Thanks. Tell us about some of the major companies that you think are shaping retail. Obviously, there’s Amazon. Feel free to speak to that, but tell us about who you see really shaping retail, where they’re leading out right now?
Gautham: Obviously, Amazon. Shout out to Amazon. Their just walk-out technology has spewed a lot of others who are trying to do the same. They’ve always been that data-driven innovative retailer. Think about the Walmarts of the Targets of the world. When you think about physical retail, how do you use the store to be the hub for customer experience? They are innovating at a rapid pace. We talked just a little bit ago about ESG and sustainability, think about companies like Patagonia and others who are actually changing the way consumers think about it. Even the fast fashion retailers like H&M who are thinking about sustainability now and how do we actually incorporate sustainability?
Jeff: In addition to the conversation we had with our guest on today’s episode, we asked another expert to provide their insights on the future.
Sucharita Kodalali: Hello, I’m Sucharita Kodali. I am a retail analyst at Forrester, which is a technology consulting company based in the US. I work with a lot of retailers, brand manufacturers, and technology companies supporting the retail ecosystem.
Retail in the future, in the next 10 to 20 years, will definitely be more sustainable and more environmentally focused. I would say that’s probably the single biggest change that we’ll see. When we look at the biggest categories of retail, like food or apparel, there’s a lot of waste in those categories. There are issues with the circularity of product, what happens in the afterlife. There’s a lot of waste, and much of that is just not sustainable. A significant portion of carbon emissions are tied to the retail industry. The retail industry needs to grapple with those negative externalities.
What will likely happen is more of an embrace of circular businesses for physical goods and sectors like apparel, footwear, even electronics, anything that comprises metals or plastics. In the food sector, it will be more about making sure that there’s less waste, so that could involve more industrial composting facilities in municipalities. It could be more ordering ahead or having better inventory planning.
There are interesting technologies like appeal sciences out there which are intended to improve the shelf life of a lot of perishable goods. I expect that those types of technologies will continue to grow and be more broadly adopted. There are all sorts of technologies now that are enabling the substitution of categories like meat, which we know are carbon-intensive, so to try to substitute some of that for less carbon-intensive products instead, but still, satisfy needs for taste and flavor.
Jeff: How am I shopping in the year 2030? If I’m an everyday person, what does retail look like? 10 years from now, it could be 20 years from now, but there’s definitely been some things trending right now. What could that look like? Let’s walk through some different technologies as well that could maybe shape that experience.
Gautham: Taking it back to the fundamentals, retail is just about getting the product where you want it, when you want it, how you want it, and the format that you want it. The future of retail, if you’re asking me, that will be that is that it’s that on demand. It could be living in the metaverse. You’re sitting on the couch and you want to have that experience. You go through that physical-digital divide, you get into the digital space to have a consumption.
It could be delivery to your home through––ee have got retailers now having drone delivery. We’ve got mobile retail stores that are on demand. That’s the future of retail. Fundamentally, that’s where I see things going. Is that whenever you want it, wherever you want it, you are able to get the product. That means a lot of different technologies have to come together to realize that future.
Jeff: You mentioned drones, and we’ve seen the trend of Ultrafast delivery. Then also in a lot of the US as an example, you have less urban environments that aren’t quite as easy to deliver to. Drones enabling ultra fast delivery. You mentioned the metaverse. The metaverse is really a hybrid experience. It’s like I’m in the present and then I’m virtual, and so this trend towards more virtual where it’s like I could be shopping in the store on my couch is what you’re saying. The metaverse being a key aspect of the hybrid environment.
Gautham: You talked about areas that are harder to service. You could have fully autonomous stores where now you are able to serve these communities far more effectively. You’re seeing a lot of them pop up right now. There are companies in Europe like Lyft that are actually doing that quite effectively.
Jeff: Autonomous store, meaning more like the Amazon just walk in, walk out technology where you go in––you don’t have many workers there or none at all. You go in and you grab what you want and you walk out. Is that what you mean by autonomous?
Gautham: Yes. That is exactly what I mean by autonomous. You can think about a future where the merchandise at stock in those stores are autonomously stocked. You’ve got the robots that are actually fulfilling them and so forth. You are actually able to have a societal impact and actually change the landscape of a country or of the globe, in fact, if you start thinking about that future.
Jeff: Robots being a big automation and robots being a big part of that, and why is that? Is that because of the labor shortage you think we’ll see a big trend in that?
Gautham: Yes. Part of it is indeed the labor shortage. It’s also an unglamorous job, stocking. The shelves are really unglamorous. Do you want to do that? No, most people would like to spend more time in more creative human-facing, problem-solving endeavors.
The second aspect is also efficiency. When you repeatedly do a process, you are prone to errors. Then if you incorporate robots into a retail store, and are not talking about micro fulfillment centers, you can actually deal with much better inventory planning and actually use the store far more effectively. I think, to your broader point, I think robots are going to become a lot more prevalent both in the store and behind the scenes, so behind the store experience.
Jeff: What about AI? Where do we see AI playing a role with retail?
Gautham: Oh, AI is the logic that underlies all of these things. If you’re thinking about autonomous stores, how do you actually take the data to customize the merchandise, the assortment, everything that’s needed to that particular store? You talk about the metaverse, how do you actually allow people to fluidly move between the physical and the digital realm? When you talk about BOPIS, what kind of stuff do you need? How do you optimize inventory? To me, it is the glue that holds the future of retail together––is AI––because that allows you to effectively function and to scale to whatever level of ambition that you have, all the different components, the complex components of retail.
Jeff: Take all the data and make it smarter so that you can serve these functions, bring them together. You can also personalize. My understanding is that personalization will be even deeper in the future, given that we’re just going to continue to have more competition. That competition is at your fingertips because it’s also online, it’s also virtual.
Gautham: Competition will explore, but so will personalization. You are going to see the future is––you’re going to see products that only you want. Based on your past experience and based on what you think is your future expectations where AI is able to say I’d love you to discover products that help build your identity. Absolutely.
Jeff: We see that now where ads are tailored to us or the news is tailored to us whether we like it or not, but is that future retail world, it’s like, okay, the experiences that I’m going into, whether it’s the metaverse or a store, is more tailored to me dynamically because they understand who I am because of the AI aspect. Maybe they see me walking in and they’re like, “Okay, Jeff’s size X, Y, and Z. I’m going to change this mannequin to show some products that might fit him better in a virtual display.” Is that the personalization we’re thinking about changing that it’s not just some of the online targeting, it’s the experience targeting that becomes more dynamic?
Gautham: Absolutely. Think about it, if you can actually get that level of personalization, then your experience becomes unique to you and you’re going to be more engaged with the process. Of course, that also brings up the undiscussed part of things. Are you willing to share the data? Do you trust the retailer, or do you trust the party that’s capturing your data? For that future to happen, this is what we need, like that’s a friction point. How do we gather data and analyze it and leverage it to actually provide those customized experiences? The friction there is that the consumer wants to make sure the data’s used effectively. If the data’s used effectively, they love the personalization.
Sucharita: With respect to technology and what new technologies will transform retail, I think that there are a couple of obvious ones. Certainly, I expect that there will be lots more automation in the future. Automation can comprise so many different things. It could be robots that do counting or placing of items in warehouses or on shelves. It could be robots that clean up spills or keep areas sanitized. Some of these robots already exist and are deployed in live deployments around the US and the world, so that’s one solution.
The challenge has been that the costs of some of those automated solutions are not at the level that justifies replacing human labor yet. We see that even with autonomous retail, cashier-less retail. There are some experiments around the world that essentially allow you to scan a credit card and go shop around and there’s camera vision to identify what you pick up or put down, and it charges you for anything that you take out of a store. Amazon Go is probably the best example of that.
The other thing that I expect that we’ll see a lot of is real-time manufacturing, 3D printing, any opportunity to be able to manufacture on demand. We see that in small ways where you see customization of very specific products so that you don’t have to carry excessive inventory that you don’t necessarily need. I was in a sports store in New York, for instance, it was actually the Paris Saint-Germain licensed store in the US or the store in the US. I actually don’t know if it was licensed or not.
They had the opportunity to––you can create some customized shorts, for instance, like if you want one of the specific logos on a specific size, rather than them having every logo already available in every size, you had the opportunity to mix and match what you wanted. That’s I think going to become increasingly common. That’s a really small-scale example of that, but in the future, I expect different shapes and different colors and more ability to customize on demand in a local environment. Well, it doesn’t even necessarily need to be in a local environment because that’s one of the beauties of e-commerce, is the ability to create that custom product.
Jeff: What about voice AI? It’s been one of the fastest growing technologies recently from an adoption perspective. How do we see that impacting the shopping experience?
Gautham: In a very big way. If you think about, as I said, retail is about buying and you can buy goods and services, so think about the QSR environment. You can completely remove the ordering system right now if you have a voice AI and you have that. Then you take it further, you can have a video AI. Why just limited to voice? We can have video conversations. You are able to give not just voice, but then you’ve got the visual components that allow you to figure things out and digitally expose it.
I do think that idea of frictionless retail, it’s about touching, feeling, getting as much information as you can, both voice and video AI are going to be the future that allow for customers to get information that they want at the beckon call whenever they want in a way that is effective for them.
Jeff: One of the things we talked about in The Future Voice AI episode was interactive advertising. It was this notion that an ad plays to you and then you have a conversation. It prompts a conversation. That could load into a video. I could imagine where it’s like, “Oh, I’m interested in something,” I have a conversation with my ad. Then I load an interactive display in the Metaverse store I have my AR glasses on. I could see that evolution where it’s like, the interactivity of shopping could––technologies like voice AI, AR could play into that personalization if you have all the technology behind it.
Gautham: Yes. That’s where the retail media networks are going. It’s that I do think that you’ll see a proliferation of screens in retail stores very soon, and that is for that engagement where you’re able to give them information at the point of sale to convert. Think about how many times you walk into the store and you walk out of it because you couldn’t get the product that you want. Now, at that very point, you can actually have an AI-driven intervention that allows you to actually convert that person and give them an experience that they want.
Jeff: We talked about BOPIS, “buy online, pick up in-store.” The flip of that is that I go into the store and I’m buying online. I’m scanning QR codes and it’s assembled for me at checkout or they’re shipping it to my house because it’s a pain to go pick up stuff, so I’m just scanning things. Do you see a big trend of that? I’ve heard this notion of the dark store where this other store that’s all just focused on assembling your goods and shipping them to you because the in-person experience, you could use a lot more of that space. Instead of stocking goods, you could use a lot more of that space just to showcase individual items that you scan along the way. Do you see a big trend there?
Gautham: I do. Dark stores, yes. Right. That’s the secret behind quick commerce, is dark stores. I think when it comes to groceries, you’re seeing a lot of groceries also deploy dark stores so they can manage inventory and service a larger area so they could be servicing other grocery stores where they carry it but they have an inventory hub, which is a dark store.
You could actually go in. I loved what you just said, Jeff, about actually experiencing a product and then placing the order and then having it assembled in the bag. You don’t need to really have all that square footage. You can see a shrinkage of physical stores by using some of this dark store concept and utilizing some part of the store for display, experiencing it. Then, who cares behind the scenes how messy it is? Get the product built, delivered to the front of the store.
You’ll see that the store itself, the notion of the store and what it plays, is going to evolve. It’s not just that it’s a place to buy products, it’s a place to get educated. It’s a place to experience something for the first time, it’s a place for community. At least in my world, it’s a big place for community. That I think is the future.
Jeff: What about Amazon? Obviously, we see them advancing. They’re doing a lot with robotics right now with drones behind the scenes. They’re getting some approvals there. They’ve been a pioneer with just walk-out technology. They bought Whole Foods recently, and so they’re getting into the physical environment more recognizing the bridge. Any thoughts on where they’re going to be taking things or where the big opportunities are for them?
Gautham: I love Amazon for two reasons. One is that they have a culture of experimentation, trying things. Second is that they’re using a data-driven approach. For everything that you just said, the underlying essence is data. How do we leverage data that we have of customers to provide or engage in these different things? They try to eliminate friction wherever possible.
In my personal opinion, you need to have physical stores in many ways. That’s why you’re seeing Amazon making much stronger inroads into the physical. We’ll see that happen throughout the time. What I think is interesting is that other retailers have caught onto this. You think about the Targets, you think about the Walmarts, and so forth.
Jeff: Home Depot.
Gautham: They’re all trying to do this, what you have called the hybrid option. The competition’s catching up, the gap is reducing, and you’re seeing the pressure that Amazon is facing from that perspective. How do we do this, and how do we do this in a way that can scale and not just limit itself to a few experiments here and there? That I think is the future for Amazon, is that they’ll continue to be physical. They’ll continue to use leverage data and to provide customers with a unique experience. At the same time, I think they’ll start focusing more and more as well on a few core things.
Jeff: How do we think sustainability and ESG will evolve for retail? We see major trends there now, major awareness, a lot of effort, but in the future. How do you see that evolving?
Gautham: I think it’ll be an expectation from every retailer in the future that they have a sustainable footprint. The consumers are demanding it, and it is going to be woven into the fabric. That being said, at this point of time, to allow for that sustainable future, it’s the cost for barriers. More oftentimes, these sustainable products are more expensive. Retailers behind the scenes are working to figure that out. How do we make this? Where if ESG is built into the fabric of the retail, it has to be at the same price?
That’s where you see the innovations happening with even fast fashion retailers like H&M and so forth. How do we actually bring sustainability into something that is a $10 item? That I think is the future where sustainability is going to be expected. It’s going to be the norm if you’re not having a sustainable footprint. At the same time, the route to getting there is to deal with the cost aspects, make it acceptable, to make it not a premium priced product, but a product that everyone can offer, can consume. The second part is, how do you measure sustainability? There’s so many different ways of measuring it. A uniform agreement on how we measure sustainability is going to be critical to enable that.
Jeff: I read your article about how we’re in the wild west right now in that space. More standards around that as we get to trust that that’s an important part of our buy-in experience will be coming.
Gautham: Yes. At this point, I’ll also say, from a consumer perspective, sustainability––there’s a group of consumers for whom sustainability is core. It has to be everyone’s issue. There’s an educational gap that we are missing. What do they mean by sustainability for categories? They’re not informed. Then there’s the cradle of the cradle. How do you get things back into the system once it’s been consumed? That’s the last aspect. A lot of things need to be fixed and processes that have to be developed, but I am optimistic.
Sucharita: If I were a business owner or if I were a retail owner, I think that the biggest concerns are how you’re going to deal with this environment in which consumption and the nature of consumption, having so many negative externalities, that that’s becoming more evident. If you are in the retail sector to really think about whether or not––how do you balance products versus services? How do you––our services, in fact, had a better way to address some of those environmental issues. I do think that we’ll, we’ll see much of that.
Historically, retailers have liked the scale that comes with physical goods and the margins that come with physical goods. They don’t like the labor-intensive nature. Sometimes the challenges with quality control or the inability to scale services businesses. That does seem like if you are going to be in the retail business, that you need to be open to selling more than just physical goods.
Jeff: As we’re wrapping up here, I want to ask you just some questions. Let’s talk about advice essentially. If I’m a business owner or retailer, what advice would you give me? I guess let’s consider that I’m a medium-sized business. I’m not a small business. I’m not a huge business, but I’m a medium-sized business.
Gautham: The first advice would be technology is not a cost. Technology is a differentiator. You want to see technology as a way to differentiate yourself from competition. The second part related to the technology would be that technology is an enabler of experiences. How do you actually get a better experience for the end customer? Oftentimes, you deploy technology for just the sake of technology and not about creating that experience that woves them or at least that meets their expectations. Those would be two things that are related to technology that I would advise.
Then a little bit more fundamentally, you said medium, the consumer trends are changing dramatically. I think one of the biggest challenges that retailers have to face is to stay abreast of these changing trends. What’s the value that you’re bringing? You hear of all these retail store closures, big stores now dying, and it’s because of that, the trend. They have not stayed abreast of the trends. That is something that we need to––I would strongly advise. I’m a consumer-driven person, so that would be the first trend. What are the changes in customer dynamics? How do you create value? Then you think about the price. You think about merchandising. You think about technology as enablers of that.
Jeff: I know there’s been a shortage of workers. We talked about robotics today, automation. Robots really shine in the dirty-dull-dangerous space and dull. If I’m stocking shelves, maybe that’s not great for me as a human. Maybe it’s not elevating me as a human. Obviously, there’s the re-skilling aspect that’s needed, but as jobs shift and change in their––they’ve already changed in the last couple years quite a bit. I think part of that has been people saying, hey, I don’t want to go back to retail. Still, I don’t know, what percent of the world still works in retail?
These are the everyday people that still are on the front lines of making all these stores work and being part of the customer experience. What advice do you have for those that are going to continue to work in this space or anticipate, this is where I’ve been, and this is part of my future.
Gautham: Retail is the largest private sector employer, at least in the US. I don’t think that’s going to change in the near future, at least. I think the store associates, the store teams, they need to take pride in the fact that the stores are ground for them to actually build a lot of skills that they have. Emerging technologies. They can actually learn those technologies that––think about robotics, think about AI. You’re hearing companies actually training their store associates on that.
Think about leadership, the human aspects of things. We are human. We want human engagement. Stores are a really good training ground to deal with customer experiences, to hone your skills on how do you interact with that irate customer who didn’t find the product? Those are skills that are transferable to a lot of different skills. What I’m trying to say, and I’m going to quote my friend here on this, is to have retail pride. Pride in the fact that you’re working in retail and that your skills that you learn in the stores can be transferable to multiple different things. There is a career path up retail from starting from the store associates level.
At the same time, there is a need to reskill and upskill. You need to be more technology cognizant. Most of the retail store associates don’t even have an undergraduate degree. They are going through college when they work as store associates or they don’t have that college degree. You need to train them in technical skills, be it automation, be it AI, be it customer service. That’s a core aspect of things. They need to learn those skills to keep themselves valuable in the future.
Jeff: I want us to close with creating a new acronym if we can for the retail space for the future. Do you know if there’s an acronym for “buy in-store, or pick up at home”?
Gautham: Oh, my goodness. No, I’m not sure.
Jeff: If there isn’t, I think we should coin one today. That’s BISPA. It’s “buy in-store, pick at home.” That’s going to be a big part of the future. We got BOPIS, but we’re going to have a lot of BISPA. We’re going to be going to stores, we’re going to be experiencing things, and we’re going to let the drones deliver the stuff to our house or the robots have it ready for us because we’re going to just be focusing on that experience and that personalization, that customization that we talked about.
Gautham: To your point, though, I think Walmart did start the at-home delivery service. Amazon has those lockers that you can put in your home stuff. You’re spot on. Ultimately, I do think that’s what it’s going to be, is that you’re going to have it delivered at your home. I will say, it’s not delivery at your home, but it’s delivered at the point of time when you want it. Wherever it is, be it at your office, be it at your home, it’s a certainty that you know you’ll get the product at that particular point of time.
Jeff: Maybe it’s BISPAC. It’s “buy in-store, pick up at your convenience.”
Gautham: There you go. I love that. I love that.
Jeff: All right. We’re going to start using it, and then it’s going to become a term that you’re just going to read about and people are like, “What is that?” It’s like, “Oh, that’s the term that Gautham and Jeff coined back in the year 2022. Remember what things were like back in 2022 when we were actually driving cars and stuff like that?”
Gautham: Yes, indeed. That would be wonderful. My lasting legacy.
Jeff: Gautham, thank you for being with us. It was fun learning from you, talking about the future, and coming up with an acronym together.
Gautham: Jeff, thank you for the opportunity to share my visions of the future and to discuss where I think retail is going to head in the near future and the challenges to get to that future. The best part, of course, was the acronym that we jointly created. I hope that becomes part of the retail folklore. I had a very memorable time, and I look forward to future interactions.
Jeff: Thank you.
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